Monday, February 3, 2014

The 48th/150th: Thirty Days' Veteran Furlough: Back Home In Old Schuylkill County

150 years ago today, the people of Pottsville and of the nearby towns, townships, and coal patches turned out by the thousands to welcome home the re-enlisted veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. After more than two years of war, these soldiers were back home, looking forward to the next thirty days in their homes, with the families and their friends, sleeping in warm beds and enjoying good, hearty meals. . .Tears were shed, warm embraces were given, and enthusiastic cheers rent the air, 150 years ago when the 48th arrived back home to start their thirty-days' furlough.

1854 View of Pottsville, Pennsylvania

February 3, 1864, was a Wednesday and early that morning, General James Nagle--the man who had raised and originally commanded the regiment, announced that the soldiers of the 48th would arrive in Pottsville that afternoon, as they were heading home on a train specially arranged for them that morning in Harrisburg. As soon as Nagle made the announcement, "Every preparation was at once made by the citizens to give the Regiment a hearty welcome home," reported Miners' Journal editor Francis Wallace. "Private residences were decorated with large streamers of red, white, and blue, while flags, large and small, were displayed everywhere throughout the borough." A parade was planned and, all along the planned route, "were displayed the names of the battles in which the Regiment had participated," while suspended across Mahantango Street were three large medallions bearing the names "Burnside," "Nagle," and "Sigfried," "under whom the regiment had served with distinguished honor."

A Train Pulls Away From Mt. Carbon Station,
(The Mansion House and Sharp Mountain Can Be Seen In Background)
At long last, at 3:30 that afternoon, the train arrived at Mt. Carbon station, coming to a halt amid a thunderous cheer and applause from the thousands gathered. The men no doubt strained their necks looking for their loved ones as they stepped off the trains. Stretching their legs and eager to get back home, the regiment was drawn up in line in order in front of the Mansion House in Mt. Carbon to receive a "beautiful stand of colors" prepared especially for them by the women of Pottsville. As Wallace described the flag: "The standard was made of heavy blue silk, with the State arms of Pennsylvania on one side, and the arms of the United States on the reverse, both of which were surrounded by scrolls containing the names of the following battles in which the Regiment had been engaged: Bull Run, Chantilly, Antietam, Fredericksburg. The guidons were four in number, a small American flag, and three, red, white and blue made of stout twilled silk. On each was inscribed: '48th P.V.'

Congressman James H. Campbell was there and presented the regiment with the flags, and gave the soldiers an encouraging and inspiring welcome home:

Representative James H. Campbell Welcomed Home The 48th With A Stirring Speech

Officers and Soldiers of the Forty-Eighth Pennsylvania!
I have been honored by the ladies of Pottsville, your sisters, wives, and mothers, with the pleasing duty of presenting this flag, guidons, and markers, as their testimonial to and appreciation of your patriotism, bravery, and devotion to the cause of the Union.
You bring with you tattered flags from glorious battle-fields--flags rent in conflict, but of stainless honor. The ladies of Pottsville beg leave to place by the side of these, this beautiful flag, the work of their fair hands.
Where the white horses romp in the azure field, you see inscribed Chantilly, Antietam, South Mountain, and East Tennessee, one and all recalling memories of heroic deeds that will live while time endures.
The fair donors have watched with sympathetic bosoms your trials, bravery, and suffering--the deadly struggle, the sufferings in hospitals, on the weary march and by the dreamless bivouac, all heroically borne by you. While they have shed tears for the gallant dead, they come today, with words of welcome and smiles of gratitude, to greet their returning brothers and husbands.
Soldiers, you have registered a vow in Heaven that the old flag shall fly in all its original splendor over every inch of territory the Nation ever possessed--and that too, over free territory. A few years since it was loved and respected everywhere,--for it was everywhere, by glacial pinnacles, and under the suns of the tropics--in the marts of the old world, and the wilderness of the new. It must now be shorn of its glory.
Soldiers, you carry peace on the points of your bayonets and true diplomacy in your cartridge boxes. We can have no true, lasting or honorable peace until the rebels submit to the laws of the country. We ask no more of them; we will submit to no less.
We bid you a hearty, earnest, warm-hearted welcome to this good old county of Schuylkill, a welcome made doubly endearing in that the ladies bid me, in their name, emphasize it with this glorious banner of liberty."

Following Representative Campbell's remarks, the 48th gave three cheers and the crowd again broke into applause. Colonel Joshua Sigfriend thanked the ladies of Pottsville for the flag and promised that they would be brought back in honor, or not brought back at all.

It was then time to commence the parade. At its head rode General Nagle and other officers, followed by a battalion of wounded soldiers and then the Pottsville band. Then marched the returning soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania, followed by "Honorably Discharged and Convalescent Soldiers" under the command of former Major James Wren. Finally, there came the soldiers of the 7th PA Cavalry as well as the 1st New York Artillery (which had been earlier summoned to the coal regions to keep an eye on draft resistance and labor unrest in the coal mines).

General James Nagle Helped To Welcome Home
The Soldiers of his Old Command, The 48th PA

"The veterans were greeted all along the route by cheers and the waving of handkerchiefs," wrote Oliver Bosbyshell. "The streets were filled with thousands of people. A more animated spectacle has been rarely witnessed in Pottsville."

The parade ended at the Union Hotel where Reverend Koons delivered a prayer and John Bannan, a leading citizen, delivered yet another welcome-home address. Sigfried once more responded, "thanking the citizens for their kind reception, and telling them of the spirit which animated the men in re-enlisting, expressing a hope that the command would return to the field recruited to its full strength."

At last, it was time for dinner and the soldiers of the 48th enjoyed a fine meal prepared by the women of Pottsville. . .after that, the regiment was dismissed. . .and for the men, it was time to go home. Many walked to their homes in Pottsville; many others--those from Tamaqua, Minersville, St. Clair, Orwigsburg, Cressona, Port Clinton, and all the other near and distant towns--had to now either catch another train ride, ride home by carriage, or, for many, simply walk.

After two-and-a-half years of service, in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky and east Tennessee, the veteran soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania who had agreed to serve three more years were back home. . .at least for thirty days.

The 48th PA First Stepped Off The Train Here at the Mansion House in Mt. Carbon. . .
Today, the site of the Pottsville Pizzeria